Researchers believe they have made a real breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer's disease after discovering a chemical capable of preventing the death of brain tissue.
The team at the Medical Research Council Toxicology unit based at the University of Leicester completed tests on mice and found that they could stop prion disease.
Working using human subjects will have to be completed before anything conclusive can be stated, but at this stage the signs look very promising.
The researchers feel that, if successful, the find could pave the way for new drugs for Parkinson's and Huntingdon's being developed as well as for Alzheimer's.
Their work involved looking at the natural defence mechanisms found inside the brain's cells. A build-up of vital proteins is made when a virus attacks these cells.
However, this can lead to the production of faulty or "misfolded" proteins. These linger and the brain shuts down production of new cells for a period so long that they effectively starve themselves.
The researchers found that these defence mechanisms could be halted using a compound known as GSK2606414, made by GlaxoSmithKline.
Five weeks after the tests, the mice showed no symptoms of memory loss or impaired reflexes.
Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who led the study, said: "We were extremely excited when we saw the treatment stop the disease in its tracks and protect brain cells, restoring some normal behaviours and preventing memory loss in the mice.
"We’re still a long way from a usable drug for humans - this compound had serious side effects, but the fact that we have established that this pathway can be manipulated to protect against brain cell loss."
Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, added that the research could yield a drug capable of reducing neurodegenerative diseases, but warned that things are still at a very "early stage".
Dementia affects more than 800,000 people in the UK.
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